Manchester United v Liverpool - Tactical analysis of the Reds 3-0 win

Energetic pressing, overloading of midfield and a willingness to run into space key features of Liverpool victory.

After Liverpool comprehensively defeated Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford yesterday we look at how victory was achieved from a tactical perspective.

What stood out immediately from the kick-off was the way in which Liverpool pushed up on Manchester United, giving them hardly any time to settle on the ball. Joe Allen and John Flanagan eagerly led the way with their pressing, crunching into tackles high up the pitch and handing the away side the initiative.

This pressing was infectious as other Liverpool players went about United in similarly aggressive fashion, Steven Gerrard most notably being first to the ball whenever it was there to be won.

This approach is not a new one of course and Brendan Rodgers has been trying to implement such aggression without the ball into his side since he joined the club. 

It is only till recently where the fruits of his labour are truly taking hold, the players more confident in what is being asked of them and more importantly, seeing that it actually works.

In turn their belief in Rodgers' methods continually grows and it is part of the reason why Liverpool have shown huge improvement in the league this season.

What this game again highlighted was that this aggression is not just without possession, but with it too. Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez's desire to penetrate at every opportunity was noticeable, either by dribbling with the ball towards goal or finding a pass to stretch the play. Note how Sturridge switched the play from right to left with a piercing cross-field ball to find Suarez who then drew a handball from Rafael in the penalty area.

The manager again played with a 4-1-2-1-2 (diamond) formation that he employed at Southampton a couple of weeks ago. Rodgers has shown throughout the season that he is tactically flexible and his decision to use Sterling at the tip of the diamond was an astute one, believing that United' centre-backs would drop off and leave space in front of them for the 19-year-old to run into. That would have explained why Coutinho was dropped as result and not simply because he has been in poor form of late.

In so far as the result the decision proved the right one but Sterling is still better suited out wide at this stage of his career, but it is a good learning experience for him playing different positions nevertheless. One would imagine that Rodgers hopes he becomes a more complete player for it.

What the diamond formation did was give Liverpool a foothold in the midfield area and it was a surprise to see David Moyes only start Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick in the middle. That meant it was 4 v 2 and such an overloading of players in the area explained why the Reds dominated and overpowered their opponents.

Gerrard sat at the base, Sterling at the top and Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson in between and on the sides. Rodgers was keen to highlight the importance of the latter two as they worked very hard to shift across and block up space whenever United had the ball.

Finally, Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling were keen to run beyond United's defensive line in a way that Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie were not, going the other way. Too often Rooney and Van Persie were facing the play whereas Liverpool's trio had their heads towards goal and playing on the shoulder, Sturridge especially. Observe how the former Chelsea man's run into the box that led to his right-footed attempted that flew wide of the goal early on.

While Rodgers' tactics yesterday demonstrated his perchance for playing to the opposition's weaknesses, the nature of his flexibility will ensure that it won't be a surprise to see him present something entirely different next week against Cardiff.

Remember, the Liverpool manager opted to play a longer ball game against Southampton to counter their almost manic pressing in a nod to playing to the opposition's strength.

And this was just the other week. In the end Liverpool can no longer be pinned down as a possession based team, counter-attacking team or this or that. What they are is side that have a range of tactics but all underpinned by the same philosophy. A philosophy that is marked by attacking and defending like 'animals'.

 Do you agree Liverpool won the game in midfield?

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